Saturday, January 16, 2010

Manchester Rain and TV Dinners.

The Manchester rain is back, and everything looks a little greyer after our Narnia-impressions of the last few weeks. It's been back to normal this week, but seems everyone's a little slow into gear because of the weather. There seems a lot to be done; and quickly, and I wonder if that's because in an election year there's a massive uncertainty about the near and far futures. Long term projects like the BBC's move to Salford, trundle on with a glacial speed, and there does seem a lot of "business as usual" about at the moment. I'm puzzled by the TV schedules - this week, we've two returning dramas, "Survivors" and "Being Human." British TV has always been a bit kinder about commissioning than the bloodbath that is American TV. The first of these shows was pilloried; and just about hung on (it finished its first run only halfway through a story, so would have been cruel on viewers to pull it, if nothing else), the latter was an unexpected slow-burn success; and didn't really expect a second series, so rounded was the first. Belatedly, it seems, producers and writers are learning from the American box sets; even if on a reduced scale.  At the other end of the scale, the turning of a period drama like "Cranford" into something of a continuing soap opera by finding other storylines than in the original adaption, seems a bit of a first for the BBC. Yet, for all the talk of the state-of-the-art facilities at New Media City, it's not the big commissioning departments that are moving initially to the north; it's sport, childrens and digital. One can only assume that the beeb and other producers will increasingly look to make dramatic programmes here as well, as time goes on.The massive investment required to have a 20-episodes a year show for five or more years, that you find with "24", "Lost" et al, is, one thinks, closer to how the old BBC and Granada used to work, with such a rich vein of talent, working on show after show.

Watching "Being Human" and "Survivors" last night, back to back, the first episodes had much in common; there was a little bit of continuation from last time to remind us where we were up to; a single story to keep the casual viewers happy (in "Survivors" a hospital collapses, requiring a search and rescue that felt particularly unsettling in the week of the Haiti earthquake); but most of all some "rebooting of the franchise" via new characters and storylines. In both cases, by episode two you hope the dramas have settled down; there was a little too much pointing at themselves for attention. The Christmas Dr. Who episodes had the same sense of writerly panic, trying to fit everything in to a particular sized dramatic box. (And surely the extra-long final Dr. Who episode was an indulgence only given because it saw Russell T. Davies's final show as well as Tennants.) It's pleasing to see some of the lessons being learnt from HBO and others, yet the bigger picture is that we don't have so clearly a defined "season" as the Americans. It's the same in fiction publishing, and the music industry; there is a timetable, but it seems dictated by the vagaries of awards ceremonies and publishing schedules, rather than something that can be looked forward to by viewers. In the 2nd snowy week of the new year, a rich TV schedule that included a range of new dramas, and a major movie ("Slumdog Millionaire", which slipped out incomprehensibly on a mid-week night), I'm sure we were all glad of some new TV to watch; but I've so vague a grasp on the tv schedules nowadays that I'm not even sure which day these shows premiere on and which days are repeats. If reality TV has shown us anything positive it is that a regular "narrative" arc, with a clear finishing line, and a sense of "event" about it, makes a lot of sense - yet in drama and comedy there's a sense of utter incoherence, at least to my mind, which culminated with the absurdity of a "Gavin and Stacey" christmas day show not being a one-off special but last-but-one in a series, set on a summer beach!


A few little things to add. Enjoyed the first book for our SF book club, Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War" - will blog about it after the book club meeting. Was somewhat perplexed and confused by the much-lauded Haneke movie "Hidden." I'm all for ambiguity, but I just didn't get this one.  I was pleased to hear that Lemn Sissay was honoured in the new year honours; writers don't get too many honours, northern writers less so; and though I'm sure it was a difficult decision about whether to accept or not, its recognition for his work and his integrity over the years. There doesn't seem much on in artistic or literary Manchester in January which seems a shame, though its 5 years of Poets and Players being celebrated at the Whitworth next Saturday.

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